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169 Sediment and Solute Transport in Glacial Meltwater Streams

Part 14. Snow and Glacier Hydrology

  1. Martyn Tranter

Published Online: 15 APR 2006

DOI: 10.1002/0470848944.hsa175

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences

How to Cite

Tranter, M. 2006. Sediment and Solute Transport in Glacial Meltwater Streams. Encyclopedia of Hydrological Sciences. 14:169.

Author Information

  1. University of Bristol, Bristol Glaciology Centre, School of Geographical Sciences, Bristol, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 APR 2006


This review documents the suspended sediment and major ion concentrations of glacial runoff, with a view to understanding the controls on sediment and solute fluxes from glaciated catchments. The sediment yield from glaciated catchments (those with >30% glacial cover) is often an order of magnitude greater than those of similar, nonglaciated catchments. Remarkably, sediment yield from glacier basins scales with basin area, most likely as a consequence of thicker ice thicknesses and ice fluxes, which increase the rate of subglacial erosion. The rate of glacial erosion usually exceeds the rate of transport of material from the catchment, so that following deglaciation sediment yield remains high for periods of 103–105 years. The concentration of ions in glacial runoff is typically less than that of temperate river waters, yet the solute yield from glaciated catchments is similar to that of temperate catchments when scaled by specific runoff. Glaciers are particularly efficient in dissolving carbonates, sulfides, fluid inclusions, and the surfaces of silicate minerals. This is a consequence of the production of fine-grained, geochemically reactive sediments in subglacial environments and the high water flux through many glaciated catchments. Subglacial chemical weathering is microbially mediated. Hence, glacier beds act as refugia for microbial life, which spans the range from fully oxic to fully anoxic conditions.


  • chemical weathering;
  • erosion;
  • glaciers;
  • physical weathering;
  • runoff